“The daily bread that never perishes: Jesus’s Word and Sacrament” Laetare 2024

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10. March 2024
John 6:12-15

So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.” 13 Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten. 14 Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.

In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.

The most shallow kind of idol-god is the one you look to for the lowest, basest need. The history of the world is littered with idols made with hands to cause rain to fall, sun to shine, crops to sprout and grow, and hungry bellies to fill. We can categorize these broadly under fertility gods. And if you succeed with these gods and there’s a harvest to gather, you will also need healthy and vibrant children to work those fields, another gift from the gods.

Well, it’s not exactly a “gift.” These gods are made by our hands and also in our sinful image. They behave just like we do. So, if you want something from them, you must give them something in return. They are hungry and demanding, too. Just like us, they demand sacrifice in exchange for their love. If you want to turn these gods to you in beneficial service, you must appease them with great wealth offerings, even deferred payment plans that will ruin future generations. If you want to generate material wealth and any children get in the way, those children must be sacrificed. Today, we’ve softened the horror with abortifacient pills and in-utero chop jobs. These gods must be appeased if you’re going to get ahead in pursuit of the lowest, basest wants.

The old gods of Baal and Ashteroth, feared and worshipped in Canaan, metamorphosed into the new gods we call entitlements and health “care.” They have different names but demand the same sacrifices in exchange for the false promise of well-being, health, and human flourishing. We soften the reality of our false worship with euphemisms and layers of obfuscation, calling our prayerful demands housing relief, food benefits, abortion access, pandemic stimulus, debt forgiveness, or tax incentives. But these and other “benefits” aren’t “free” but demand reciprocal acts of sacrifice, enslavement, and worship. The new gods are not benevolent but horrifying. To feed the pressing hunger of our insatiable consumer appetites, we’ll forfeit the blood and treasure inherited from our fathers and the life and well-being of future generations. And every sacrifice feeds the gods until they are Leviathan.

All idolatry is necessarily pale, lifeless imitations of the reality of true worship, God the Holy Trinity, and His promises. We put our fear, love, and trust in something or someone who is not God, nor has God promised to use to deliver to us His gifts. The false promises of idolatry are satanic distortions or inversions of the gifts of God. Thus, idolatry applies to even the most benign things that affect our bodies and lives. Maybe it’s always the little things where God gets forgotten and prayerful worship neglected. It makes sense to us, after all. What could God possibly be attentive to in the daily humdrum? So, we put that fear, love, and trust somewhere else, be it our efforts or the false promises of others, reserving prayer to God for the big things.

But think about the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus taught us to ask His Father for the little things. And by asking God, you will have to trust Him to give them, like children believe their father. We ask in faith that God would give us His Word, faith by the Spirit to believe it, and then conform our lives to His Word. And what does this Word promise to do? Right in the middle, the fourth of seven petitions, is the promise of daily bread. Jesus taught us to ask regularly and persistently for ordinary, humdrum things. He knows we’re tempted to think that the Father doesn’t care about these things, can’t be bothered with our childish needs, and only really cares about the big things of resurrection and eternal life.

But the petition for daily bread proves otherwise. Your loving Father cares for everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body. He gives daily bread to everyone, even all evil people. Despite how people think that what they have came from their effort and ingenuity, or maybe through the pseudo-religious institutions that they’ve created as mock benevolent gods, the reality is that everything and everyone in this world is from God and sustained and preserved by God, whether they know it or believe it. Absent faith in the true God, you’ll create idols within oneself or without fear and worship to get more money, goods, family, government, weather, friends, or community. 

We complain endlessly about the needs of our body and life, not because we don’t have them met, but because we don’t believe God’s promises. We’re not different than Israel in the wilderness complaining about no water, bread, or meat. God hears their prayers and gives them it abundantly. But then they complain about that, too. The God who demonstrated awesome might in delivering them from Egypt and Pharoah apparently can’t be trusted to preserve the people He saved. Or so they think. It’s outrageous, but here we are, falling for the same temptations of our sinful nature, the world, and the devil.

So, we pray for that, too, that our Father deliver us from the temptation to think He doesn’t care about us. We add a petition that He rescue us from every evil, body and soul, possessions and reputation. We’re not just talking about the big things. We’re talking about the little things, the daily humdrum. He even provides for salaries and benefits for your church works, the less-than-glamorous utility bills, necessary roof repairs, and pest extermination. He wonderfully orders the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of His Son to provide for you. Your loving Father God is so magnificent that He even numbers and attends to the hairs on your head, many or few. There’s no care or concern too small or large. Maybe it’s the bread for dinner for the twelve disciples in the upper room or bread enough for five thousand or more?

And if God so cares for the little things, even without your prayers, maybe you can stop fretting so much about getting things that won’t last, bread that perishes? The Father will give those things anyway. Take what He gives, be faithful stewards, and stop worrying. Pray for daily bread and leave it to Him. Then, you can be attentive to the bread that gives eternal life, the Word, the incarnate Jesus Christ. You can be like those five thousand who had no care in the world but to receive Jesus’s Word and gifts. Set aside any fears, loves, or false trusts that distract you from the daily bread that never perishes: Jesus’s Word and Sacrament. Our congregation could be focused on the Bread that gives Life and not the bread that perishes, here today, gone tomorrow. And you’ll find that by ordering your life around Jesus in study, worship, and prayer, you’ll not be so worried about that stuff the Father promises to give anyway. 

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin